A Year of Reading 2019 – Part 1

38 books in 2019! This is the sixth year I’ve created these summaries. As in previous years, I’ve used the following scheme in these brief notes on the books I’ve read.

LR = light, enjoyable read; GR = good, several caveats; ER = excellent, few caveats; OR = outstanding; DNF = did not finish; NMT = not my type.

Title Author Comment
Jan American Duchess: A Novel of Consuelo Vanderbilt Karen Harper ER Karen Harper chose an excellent time and subject to write about. So much happened in Consuelo’s life, it could have been two books!
Jan The Governor’s Wife Michael Harvey GR Enjoyable, fast read. Set in Chicago with lots of twists and nefarious, scheming characters who are rotten to the core.
Jan Before We Were Yours Lisa Wingate ER  I powered through the novel in two and a half very satisfying days. See blog for more. 
Jan Nine Perfect Strangers Liane Moriarty GR Not quite as compelling as Big Little Lies or The Husband’s Secret. But an intriguing premise.
Jan Educated Tara Westover OR At book club the words used to describe it included: compelling, horrifying, unbelievable, shocking, inspiring, and head shaking. See blog for more.
Feb Becoming Michelle Obama OR Wonderful. I know that doesn’t constitute a review, but I found Michelle Obama’s memoir hard to put down for many reasons.
Feb Love and Ruin Paula McLain ER Martha Gelhorn is such an interesting woman and McLain makes her and her relationship with Hemingway come alive. Definitely a page-turner.
Mar The Great Alone Kristin Hannah ER I powered through the pages and marvelled at Kristin Hannah’s storytelling talent.
Mar The Blue Nancy Bilyeau ER Industrial espionage in the porcelain trade of the 18th century.
Mar American Princess Stephanie Marie Thornton (see blog for author interview) ER A superbly told story of Alice Roosevelt the high-spirited, independent-minded woman who took America by storm when her father, Teddy Roosevelt became president.
Mar The Huntress Kate Quinn (see blog for a discussion of writing this novel) ER Wonderful characters + a fast-paced story = a superb read. Kate Quinn does it again!
Apr Careless Love Peter Robinson GR An excellent ‘read’ in audiobook format. Kept my husband and I intrigued on a two-day drive.
Apr The Expatriates Janice Y.K. Lee GR Janice Y.K. Lee’s writing is quite wonderful. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of Hong Kong, a city where I lived for three years.
May Where the Crawdads Sing Delia Owens ER Two timelines – one deserves 5 stars, the other comes in at 3. See blog for more.
May No Hero’s Welcome Jeffrey K Walker (see author guest post) ER A superbly told story of an Irish family’s struggles during and after World War One; wonderful characters.
June The Founding Cynthia Harrod-Eagles DNF Searching around for a new author – unfortunately, this did not grab me.
June Mistress of Rome Kate Quinn ER After reading The Alice Network and The Huntress, I went searching for more Kate Quinn.
Jun Madame Fourcade’s Secret War Lynne Olson ER Non-fiction; A fascinating story of the courageous woman who led France’s largest WWII spy network.
Jun The Devlin Diary Christi Phillips GR 3.5 on my scale; lots to enjoy about this story & the time period of 1672 London in the court of Charles II
Jun Beartown Fredrik Backman ER Excellent .. powerfully told story. Characters leap off the page.
Jun Wench Dolen Perkins-Valdez ER An enthralling story of enslaved mistresses. The author truly swept me away into that time and place.

I’ll post Part 2 next Tuesday. I hope your 2019 reading has been equally rewarding. Recommendations welcome!

Previous years: 2018 part 2, 2018 part 1, 2017 (part 1 and part 2), 2016 (part 1 and part 2)

A Year of Reading 2015 – Part 1 and Part 2

A Year of Reading 2014 – Part 1 and Part 2

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

 

10 Books to Recommend

A Writer of History is NOT a book blog – however, I have written reviews from time to time on books I’ve chosen to read or books selected by one of my book clubs. Below are ten to recommend with links to each more detailed review.

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate – I powered through this novel in two and a half very satisfying days. The story is “based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals—in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country.”

Educated by Tara Westover – Book club unanimously endorsed Tara Westover’s well-received novel of growing up in a survivalist Mormon home in the hills of Idaho.The words used to describe it included: compelling, horrifying, unbelievable, shocking, inspiring, and head shaking.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan – author Patti Callahan has written a poignant and clear-eyed story about these two well-known writers and I had the pleasure of reading the novel for an article published by the Historical Novel Society.

The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin – This compelling look at two famous women – actor Mary Pickford and screenwriter Frances Marion – entertains and informs while transporting readers to the magical kingdom of the movie industry. Highly recommended.

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng – the verdict at book club was resoundingly in favour of this powerful novel of memory and forgetting, war and peace, love and hate, which was nominated for the Man Booker prize.

The Splendor Before the Dark by Margaret George On every dimension – superb writing, feeling immersed in time and place, characters both heroic and human, authenticity, and compelling plot – The Splendor Before the Dark is a winner.

My Dear Hamilton by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie Beginning in 1777 with a victory against the British at Saratoga, My Dear Hamilton tells the story of Alexander Hamilton through the eyes of his wife Eliza. Superb historical fiction.

Mary – Tudor Princess by Tony Riches – I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Mary Tudor, sister to Henry VIII. The history is fascinating and Tony’s superb writing brings Mary’s character to life with a strong and sympathetic voice.

The Perfect Summer by Juliet Nicolson – This work of non-fiction “chronicles a glorious English summer a century ago when the world was on the cusp of irrevocable change … That summer of 1911 a new king was crowned and the aristocracy was at play, bounding from one house party to the next. But perfection was not for all. Cracks in the social fabric were showing.”

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn – In the two years since reading The Alice Network, I’ve recommended it to dozens of people. Why? Because it grabbed me from the very start and wouldn’t let go. And what special ingredients does it have? Flawed, heroic, and intriguing characters – check. Tension that builds and builds – check. A superb sense of history and setting – check. Strong writing – check. An immersive experience – check. A flawless weaving of two timelines – check. What more could you ask for?

I hope some of these add to your reading piles! If you have feedback on any of them, please add your voice to the comments.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Readers on Reading – with Tessa aka Book Concierge

Tessa is another reader who agreed to be interviewed. If her recommended books are a good indicator, I think we would get on wonderfully! Welcome to A Writer of History, Tessa.

Please tell us a little about yourself: for example, background, age range, country, general book reading habits. If you’re prepared to share your name or your first name, please do. My name is Tessa. On GoodReads my user name is Book Concierge.   I’m recently retired and in my mid 60s.  I was born and live in the USA.  I read voraciously across a wide variety of genres. Basically, if it has words, I’m willing to read it.  In the last three weeks I’ve read science fiction, historical fiction, classic, cozy mystery, young adult, literary fiction, detective mystery, and a children’s adventure book. However, my favorite genre is literary fiction; I like a book I can sink my teeth into, that makes me think, that engenders conversation and discussion at book club.  I belong to six (yes, 6) face-to-face book discussion groups (moderate two of them), as well as several groups on Goodreads.

In your opinion, what is the power of fiction? For me the power of fiction is its ability to transport me to a different time/place/circumstance, and yet allow me to connect with the characters in a way that makes me interested and invested in what happens to them. It fuels my imagination. And also makes me more compassionate, in that I can understand the similarities between myself and a character who may be of a different race, ethnic background, societal culture, religion, time period, etc.

What kind of stories are you drawn to? Any you steer clear of? I like character-driven works best, but am game for a great plot with many twists as well.  If there’s anything I steer clear of it’s probably paranormal and romance works.  I’ve read some, and will probably read others in the future, but they just aren’t my cup of tea.

What aspects of an author’s writing make you feel like you’re ‘immersed in the novel’s world’ and/or ‘transported in time and place’. Landscape that is practically a character … as in McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove  or  Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River.   Clear and vivid descriptions that have me practically smelling and tasting the food or environment … as in Gibb’s The Beauty of Humanity Movement  or The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones.  And period details will transport me as in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon.

Which books read in the past year or so stand out for you and why? I’m not quick to hand out 5-star ratings.  I read about 180-200 books a year and in the last 12 months (Nov 2017 to present) here are the ones I’ve given 5 stars to:

A Gentleman in Moscow– Amor Towles   –  love the character and the premise. His room is small, his world is not.

Inside the O’Briens– Lisa Genova  –  loved how Genova informed as well as entertained. I had great compassion for this family.

The Radium Girls– Kate Moore  (NONfiction) – informative, inspiring, and infuriating.

We Band of Angels– Elizabeth M Norman  (NONfiction) – informative and inspiring. Love reading about strong women!

A Thread of Grace– Mary Doria Russell – beautiful prose; an aspect of WW2 I hadn’t read about before; brought me to tears

To Kill a Mockingbird– Harper Lee (re-read) – a perennial favorite; I’ve read it at least 20 times and will never tire of it.

Someone Knows My Name– Lawrence Hill – historical information I was unaware of; characters I cared about and cheered for.

Exit West– Mohsin Hamid – such a unique concept, yet focused on the characters.

Educated: A Memoir– Tara Westover  (NONfiction) – inspiring and horrifying. Looking forward to book club next week!

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café– Fannie Flagg (re-read) – These characters fairly leap off the page.

Of Mice and Men– John Steinbeck (re-read) – a book that never fails to touch me for its depiction of love and loyalty. I think this was the 4thtime I’ve read this; as well as seeing at least two movie adaptations and watching a live performance of the play twice.

How do you decide what books to buy? What influences your book purchases? I only buy hardcover first editions, preferably when I can get them signed by the author.  I tend to buy literary fiction only.  Virtually every book I read comes from the library.

Is there anything about where you live or your particular background that influences your fiction choices? I am lucky to live in Milwaukee Wisconsin where there is an excellent independent bookseller who knows me, knows my tastes, recommends books to me, brings in authors, and generally feeds my addiction to hardcover first editions.

If you’re a book blogger or run a book site, please tell us a little about your focus and features. I don’t do this, though people tell me I should.

Many thanks, Tessa. I’m sure your thoughts will inspire others – both readers and authors. Have you read The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah? I finished it recently and based on your comment on landscape as a character, I think you would enjoy it.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.